If you’ve ever experienced a sensory meltdown, then you know it’s not as simple as a child having a tantrum. Do you ever wonder how to stay calm when you feel the exact opposite?
Kids who are in the throws of a meltdown aren’t acting out because they didn’t get something they want. Instead, they are physically and/or emotionally overwhelmed and incapacitated by something.
Today I’m welcoming Angela from Parents with Confidence to share her tips on how to stay calm during your child’s meltdown for my series Voices of Special Needs.
HOW TO STAY CALM DURING YOUR CHILD’S MELTDOWN
If you are the parent of a child with sensory processing difficulties you know how extremely draining and frustrating it is to observe a sensory meltdown. I can honestly say dealing with sensory meltdowns is one of the most stressful things I’ve ever experienced (and that’s sayin’ something people – trust me). If you’ve done your research and are familiar with Sensory Processing Disorder you know that meltdown’s are not behavioral. That is – they are not a means to an end for the child, despite the fact that they are often misinterpreted as such.
Sensory meltdowns are completely out of the child’s control and are a result of a very overwhelmed nervous system.
When our children have difficultly modulating sensory input, their sympathetic nervous system is triggered and sets of a ‘fight or fight’ response. When your child is in fight or flight there is nothing you can do for them aside from containing them to a safe environment and STAYING CALM. The importance of staying calm can’t be reiterated enough. During a sensory meltdown a child feels internally out of control. We need to be the source of control, calm and quiet for them.
To say that this is easier said than done is a major understatement. Even when we know these behaviors are unintentional and uncontrollable they are still EXTEMELY FRUSTRATING to deal with. The child is most likely engaging in some combination of screaming, crying, running, flailing, banging, hitting, kicking, biting ect… which may or may not be directed at you.
These behaviors illicit a strong response from adults – remaining neutral and calm takes forethought and strategizing. After surviving many meltdowns (just barely) I have narrowed in on these coping techniques, as the ones that have been the most helpful.
1. TALK TO YOURSELF
Remind yourself of the basic premise of sensory meltdowns: your child is in fight or flight and no longer has the ability to use reason or logic. Your child is now operating out of the emotion center of the brain (amygdala) and most likely can not understand you. The best thing you can do is to KEEP THEM SAFE and STAY CALM. You don’t have the ability to control what is happening with your child. The only thing you have the ability to control at this point is yourself.
Learn Jenny’s personal trick on how to stay calm during your kiddo’s sensory meltdowns. (Hint: It’s in how you talk to yourself.)
2. LET IT GO
Your breath that is. The behaviors your child is engaging in are very frustrating and are going to cause your blood pressure to rise and your frustration level to shorten as a result. Taking repetitive deep breaths is the quickest way to physiologically calm your body down, and decrease the release of stress hormones. Slow calm breaths will allow YOU to continue thinking from the logical part of your brain (pre-frontal cortex) and not from the emotion center of the brain (amygdala) where your child is functioning out of currently.
3. GET IN THE ZONE
As a parent, it is heartbreaking that there is very little you can do to help your child in their discomfort. It is very apparent how uncomfortable the child is and we’d do anything to help relieve some of their pain. When I find myself staying fully present for an lengthy meltdown, it is inevitable I will get emotional. This usually tends to derail my intended response (to stay calm and quiet) and doesn’t help demonstrate for my child that I am in control. The only full proof way to not get emotionally invested is to ZONE OUT. Check out. Disengage mentally and emotionally. Let your mind go elsewhere (as long as your child is safe and contained) for a while and you’ll be much more likely to remain in control.
4. GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK
When all else fails and you feel your tension rising too high- give yourself permission to take a break. If you are lucky your child will be ok with this (in my case my child always wants in her proximity), but they very well may not be. Regardless of their initial reaction, leaving to gather yourself and calm down is a much better alternative than staying and losing your temper verbally or physically.
Learning to respond to a sensory meltdown in a helpful and productive way takes effort and practice. Be patient with yourself, and make sure you can unwind in some way afterwards. Don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back and a thumbs up for working hard to do what’s best for your sensory kiddo. Having a kid with sensory issues is not easy, and you are a great parent.